Guest Post: Yummy superfoods that don’t break the bank

With everyone talking about how “superfoods” can accelerate weight loss, improve digestion, enhance mood, and boost your overall health, it’s no wonder we’re all looking for ways to incorporate these seemingly magical ingredients into our own diets. However, the hefty price tag that often accompanies these superfoods can make them somewhat inaccessible for most of us – and usually, they’re not the tastiest options out there.

The idea that these foods are “super” is mainly just a marketing term. Generally, these foods are nutrient-dense foods that are packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties – but a lot of these can be found in everyday foods. This means that there are some delicious superfoods that you can pick up at your own grocery store – without breaking the bank.

Quinoa
This complex carbohydrate is slightly pricier than rice or barley, but can be found at nearly every supermarket – and is getting more and more affordable. With a higher protein and fibre content than many other grains, quinoa is a great alternative to other carbohydrates that may cause your blood sugar to spike due to increased levels of glucose.
Olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil is a perfect substitute for butter or vegetable oils, providing a substantial amount of healthy monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties. Use it in cooking, use it as a salad dressing, and use it in sauces – this superfood is versatile, delicious, and relatively inexpensive.
Oats
Not only are oats low on the glycemic index, but they contain plenty of soluble fibre – which helps keep you satisfied as they are digested more slowly to stabilize your blood sugar and keep cravings at bay. Oats also contain plenty of beta-glucan, which studies show can help lower cholesterol.
Legumes
Incorporating legumes like kidney beans*, chickpeas, and lentils into your regular diet can contribute to steady weight loss. With plenty of protein, fibre, iron, magnesium, potassium, and folate, legumes make a perfect addition to salads, casseroles, and soups. You can also mash them for an alternative to potatoes.*[NB: Please note that it’s important to cook legumes, in particular kidney beans, by boiling in water for at least 10 minutes before eating to destroy the toxins present in the beans. After cooking, they can safely be eaten cold in salad. Canned beans are already cooked, so can be used straight out of the can. ed.]
Avocado
The healthy fats in avocados makes this superfood great for your heart, brain, and skin. The smooth, satisfying texture of avocado makes it perfect to use on whole grain bread instead of margarine or butter, and you’ll be getting plenty of monounsaturated fatty acids, potassium, fibre, and vitamin E.

Walnuts

Toss a handful of walnuts on cereal, salads, and even in desserts for a little extra vitamin E, folate, antioxidants, and polyunsaturated fats. They’ve also been studied for their effect on emotions and mood, making this superfood especially essential for people who struggle with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
Apples
Full of antioxidants and fibre and low on the glycemic index, apples are one of nature’s perfect superfoods – but be sure to leave the skins on to receive this fruit’s full health benefits. They’re great in desserts, in salads, and even in savoury recipes, but nothing beats the satisfying crunch of biting into a fresh apple for a mid-day snack.
Oranges
Everyone knows oranges are a fantastic source of vitamin C, but these delicious superfoods also pack a hefty amount of fibre, folate, potassium, and thiamin. Citrus fruit in general can help protect against stroke and heart disease thanks to the impact it has on blood vessel function – so mix it up and incorporate some grapefruits and lemons in your diet, as well.
Blueberries
You don’t need to hunt down pricey acai berries to boost your health with a superfood – regular blueberries will do the trick! These potent antioxidants are rich in manganese, copper, and fibre, as well as vitamins K and C. They’re an easy snack, but they’re also great in salads, yogurt, or even blended into a smoothie.
Fresh herbs
You can find all kinds of different herbs at the supermarket, and none of them will break the bank. Not only will they add all kinds of delicious flavour to your meals, they’ll add a ton of antioxidants, too.

You don’t have to spend a fortune at the health food store to eat a healthy, nutritious diet. Instead, take this list with you to your regular grocery store and look for some of these ingredients. Remember that the main key to a healthy diet is variety, so feel free to mix it up and try a different superfood each day. These yummy options will keep you looking forward to your next meal – and your next helping of a nutrient-dense, antioxidant-packed superfood.

This article was written by Sam Socorro from Clearwells. She has over 10 years’ experience in writing health related topics and specializes in the health benefits of saunas and hydrotherapy.


chia

Chia seeds health benefits: a superfood worthy of the name

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Chia seeds are a star among superfoods

Chia seeds are a star among superfoods

The chia plant (sometimes Mexican chia), Salvia hispanica, is native to Mexico and Guatemala and was one of the staples eaten by ancient Aztecs. It is related to sage, clary sage and Spanish sage.

Chia is an annual plant which reaches a height of around 1m (3′), but is frost tender. However, as it flowers in July and August, the seed crop can easily be harvested before frost strikes. It prefers well drained, light to medium rich soil and a sunny position. Sow under cover in March-April, prick out and pot on as necessary, then plant in their final position in late Spring/early Summer. You can also sow direct, but may not achieve a mature crop if the Summer is poor.

Chia seeds can be different colours, depending on variety, ranging from off white through various shades of brown to black. They are shaped like miniature pinto beans, but only about 1mm in diameter.

Chia is a good plant for attracting bees, and is apparently unpopular with deer, which may be useful in areas close to forests.

Chia seeds are usually mixed with water to make a jelly, and once gelled added to fruit juice. You could also use them to make a pudding. Sprouting the seeds is difficult, due to the gel, but you can use a porous clay base to achieve this with some experimentation. Sprouted seeds can be eaten like other sprouts in salad, sandwiches, and added to breakfast cereal and recipes. A teaspoon of chia seeds mixed into orange juice and allowed to soak for 10 minutes will produce a refreshing drink that will stop you feeling hungry for several hours. You can also grind the seeds and mix with other flours for bread, biscuits and other baked goods. Chia seed is of course gluten free, since it is not a member of the Gramineae/Poaceae family.

Chia seed nutrition tableA well known superfood, chia seeds are rich in essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals (see table). On top of this, 100g chia seed provides 91% of the adult recommended daily intake of fibre. Most amazing is the 17.5g Omega-3 oil and 5.8g Omega-6 oil per 100g, which along with the other nutrients makes it a true star.

The high antioxidant content from vitamins A, C and E plus selenium, ferulic acid, caffeic acid and quercetin helps to protect against heart disease and some types of cancer. The high niacin content (almost twice that of sesame seeds) gives it the property of helping to reduce LDL cholesterol and enhancing GABA activity in the brain, reducing anxiety.

Chia seed has a good level of potassium, very much higher than its sodium content. Potassium helps to counteract the bad effects of sodium in the body and is involved in regulating fluid levels and enhancing muscle strength.

It has to be said that chia is probably one of the better candidates for the label “superfood”.

A chia leaf infusion made with just a few chopped leaves to a cup of boiling water is used to provide pain relief for arthritis, sore throat and mouth ulcers, for respiratory problems, to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It is also helpful for relieving hot flushes during the menopause. Chia seed can be chewed to help relieve flatulence (“gas” or “wind“).

I offer a wide range of chia seed and products in my online store.

If you decide to grow your own chia seed, please remember that for safety’s sake it’s best to use organic methods, to avoid high concentrations of nasty chemicals ending up in your stomach. To find out more about organic gardening visit the Gardenzone.


Baobabs are large trees that can live for up to 1,500 years

Baobab health benefits: the superfood from the savannah

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Baobabs are large trees that can live for up to 1,500 years

Baobabs are large trees that can live for up to 1,500 years

The baobab tree is also sometimes called the upside down tree because it is leafless for much of the year and people say it looks as if its roots are in the air. Other names include monkey bread tree (because monkeys feast on the fruit), dead rat tree (because ripe fruits look like rats hung up by their tails), cream of tartar tree (the fruit pith can be used as a substitute), Judas fruit, cork tree and Ethiopian sour gourd tree. There are also many other non-English names. The latin name is Adansonia digitata.

The tree grows in hot, dry savannah in tropical Africa. They can be used to locate water from a distance. They are also naturalised in many similar areas in Asia. It isn’t feasible to grow one for yourself unless you live in that sort of area, and in any case it would take too long to get a crop to be of any use, though it might be good for your children or subsequent occupants.

Almost every part of a baobab can be used, but it is the fruit which is the superfood familiar in the West, though you’re unlikely to find the actual fruit on sale, because when it ripens, it falls apart. The fruit pulp dries naturally inside the husk and this powder is then packed and sent around the world for sale.

When made into a drink with water or milk, baobab powder has a taste like lemonade. As well as using it in smoothies and other drinks, it can also be used to thicken sauces, dressings and other recipes.

It is very nutritious: 100g contains less than 1g of fat, but 39g carbohydrate. 47g fibre all for only 253 calories. A 10g serving provides 33% of your daily nutritional requirement of vitamin C and 10% of the potassium requirement.

On top of being a great nutritional source, baobab is also a prebiotic which nourishes the “good” gut bacteria, and may be helpful for chronic digestive disorders and inflammatory bowel diseases. It’s also rich in antioxidants and, of course, is naturally vegan and gluten free.

I offer baobab products in my online shop.


Olives can be grown in containers

Olive health benefits: relieves bites, stings, itching and more

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Olives can be grown in containers

Olives can be grown in containers

Olives are the fruit of the tree Olea europaea, also sometimes called oliveleaf, and mu xi lian in Chinese. Green and black olives are different stages of ripeness, though some varieties are always picked green.

There are 6 subspecies: Olea europaea subsp. cerasiformis aka O. europaea var. cerasiformis or O. europaea var. maderensis; Olea europaea subsp. cuspidata (African, brown or wild olive) aka O. africana, O. chrysophylla, O. cuspidata, O. europaea subsp. africana, O. ferruginea, O. sativa var. verrucosa or O. verrucosa; Olea europaea subsp. europaea aka O. europaea subsp. oleaster or O. oleaster; Olea europaea subsp. guanchica; Olea europaea subsp. laperrinei aka O. laperrinei; and Olea europaea subsp. maroccana aka O. maroccana.

The olive has been cultivated since the time of the Ancient Greeks, and is now naturalized across much of the planet and widely grown commercially. It is best suited to a Mediterranean climate with cool winters. To provide a decent crop, olive trees require 2-300 hours of dormancy at temperatures between 7.5°C/45°F and 10°C/50°F (easily provided by a UK winter), during which time day and night temperatures must be distinctly different. Unless you have a room where you can let the ambient temperature fluctuate naturally, you’re unlikely to get fruit from an indoor grown tree. On the other hand, if your outdoor tree is subjected to long periods below -10°C/14°F, it will be damaged and produce a smaller crop, although it should recover the following year.

Olives can be grown in containers, otherwise plant them in well drained soil which isn’t too rich, preferably against a south- or west-facing wall. Water weekly until established and keep weed free for the first few years. Pinch out container-grown trees at about 1.5m (5′) to encourage bushiness.

Water fortnightly with seaweed fertilizer during spring and summer (May to September in the UK). Prune in spring and early- to mid-summer; just thin out the branches to allow air flow, remove dead and diseased branches and any that spoil the shape of the tree.

Depending on the age of the tree you have purchased, you can expect fruit 3-5 years after planting. It will start to appear in late Summer. Most varieties can be picked green or left to turn black. In any case, it’s best to take what remains before the cold, wet days of Fall set in. Pick leaves as required for remedial use, and take small quantities of bark, being careful not to ring the tree, in early Fall for drying.

Before they can be eaten, olives must be processed by pickling for several weeks and then marinating. Green and black olives are dealt with separately. Full instructions for one method are given on Big Plant Nursery’s article, “Preparation of your olive harvest“.

Olives and olive oil are superfoods, but they are also extremely high in calories, so regular snacking on olives may be impractical. Olive oil is one of the healthiest cooking oils, as it does not turn to trans-fats when heated. It is sometimes used for making margarine, and often in preparing Italian and other Mediterranean-style food, so can easily be included in your daily diet. Extracting the oil from olives is impractical at home without special equipment capable of crushing the olive pit/stone.

Decoction: Add 1 tsp well-crushed bark or chopped leaves to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) cold water in a non-metallic pan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and continue heating for 10-15 minutes, strain off root and use the liquid hot or cold. Dosage: Up to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) a day, split into 3 doses.

Olive oil is a laxative, promotes bile production and is soothing to mucous membranes and skin. It also helps combat hyperacidity and treats peptic ulcers. Externally it can be used to treat stings, burns and itchy skin, also as a base for liniment and ointment.

A decoction of leaves is used to treat fever, nervous tension, high blood pressure and to lower blood sugar. It can also be used externally to treat cuts and grazes.

A decoction of bark has been used as a substitute for quinine to treat malaria.

Recent research has found that olive leaf extract is very beneficial for preventing and treating high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, osteaoarthritis and lowering blood sugar and LDL cholesterol levels.

The gum which collects in warm countries is used to treat cuts and grazes.

You can make a hair tonic by mixing olive oil with alcohol.

In Bach flower remedies Olive is used for exhaustion and mental fatigue.

I offer olive Bach flower remedy, olive leaf extract 6750mg capsules and cosmetic grade olive oil in quantities up to 5 litres in my online shop.

Aromatherapy

Olive oil is used as a base oil in aromatherapy. One application is with rosemary, for dandruff. Find out more about olive oil in aromatherapy.

If you decide to grow olives, as with all remedies grown at home, I recommend that you use organic methods, so as to be sure that you don’t end up ingesting lots of chemicals along with your food or medicine. General articles on organic methods can be found on our sister site, the Garden Zone.


Gotu kola is a low growing plant which likes wet soil

Gotu Kola health benefits: superfood and super herb

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Gotu kola is a low growing plant which likes wet soil

Gotu kola is a low growing plant which likes wet soil

Gotu kola is the Sinhalese name for Centella asiatica (syn. Hydrocotyle asiatica, H. cordifolia, H. erecta, H. repanda and Trisanthus cochinchinensis), also called Asiatic pennywort, brahmi, centella, Indian pennywort, ji xue cao, kodokan, marsh pennywort, pennyweed, sheeprot and thankuni amongst many other names worldwide. It is not related to kola nut or to Bacopa monnieri (also called brahmi).

Gotu kola is a low growing (to 8″, 20cm tall) but wide spreading (up to 3′, 1m) evergreen perennial which will grow in any moist or wet soil, so long as it’s not in full shade. It is native across Asia, Africa, South America, the Pacific islands and Queensland, Australia and is naturalized in Norway, strangely. The reason this is odd is that it will not tolerate frost, but in areas with harsh winters it could be grown in pots under cover during the cold season, if fresh supplies are required all year round. In warmer areas, it can be used as groundcover in moist soil.

Seed can be sown under cover in Spring and grown on indoors for the first Winter, planting out in their permanent position the following Spring after the last frost date. Divide some plants in the Fall and bring the divisions indoors to ensure continued supply even if your outdoor crop is killed by the weather.

You should be able to arrange to have fresh leaves available all year round, and they can be harvested at any time. You can also dry them, but they quickly lose their efficacy so it’s best only to do so when you know you will be using them in a short time – to take on vacation with you, for example. You can also buy in powdered form.

This plant is used in many recipes across its range, including sambola, brahmi tambli (scroll down), Acehnese pennywort salad (near the end) and green Thai tea drink.

It is a traditional herb in Ayurvedic, Chinese and African medicine. However, there are some precautions that you should be aware of before using it:Not suitable for use by children, diabetics, cancer patients (even in remission), or anyone with liver disease. Do not use gotu kola if you’re taking any of the following: green tea, astragalus, ginkgo, valerian, statins and other cholesterol lowering drugs, diuretics, sedatives or any drug (whether conventional or herb-derived) that affects the liver.

The standard recommendations for gotu kola are: Do not use for more than 6 weeks at a time, and then leave at least two weeks before taking it again. Having said all that, it seems strange that all these restrictions are recommended when it seems to be a regular part of the diet in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Bangladesh. It is also an important healing herb across Asia including India and China.

A standard infusion can be made in the usual way using 3 handfuls of fresh or 15g dried leaves or powder to 500ml (2 US cups, 8 fl oz) boiling water, brewed for 10-15 minutes and then strained.

A standard extract (should contain 40% asiaticoside, 29-30% asiatic acid, 29-30% madecassic acid, and 1-2% madecassoside) is available in some health outlets. You can also buy or prepare a tincture (full instructions for making tinctures and other types of remedy can be found in my Kindle ebook Home Remedies and How to Make Them which is available for only 99p in your local Amazon store).

Dosage (standard extract): scleroderma 20mg 2 or 3 times a day, venous insufficiency 30-40mg 3 times a day; (standard infusion): 250ml (1 US cup, 4 fl oz) a day, which may be split into 2 or 3 doses;(tincture): 30-60 drops 3 times a day.

Do not exceed the stated dose. Use half the standard dosage for the elderly.

Gotu kola is a very valuable herb with many healing properties. As well as fighting bacterial and viral infections, it also works against inflammation, rheumatic problems, high blood pressure and ulceration. On the non-physical side, it’s also helpful in improving memory, preventing panic attacks, reducing nervous tension and as a sedative. Recent research shows that when applied topically it stimulates production of collagen and reduces scarring, inflammatory reaction and myofibroblast production – which explains both its reputation as a wound healer and its use in cosmetic masks and creams reputed to increase collagen and firm the skin.

It is a traditional tonic and is used for diarrhea and other digestive problems, as a diuretic and detoxifier, to reduce inflammation and promote healing and also to balance the emotions and improve memory and concentration. Although normally used externally for wounds and skin conditions, it is also taken to speed up the body’s natural repair mechanisms. Other conditions for which gotu kola is used include leprosy, malaria, scleroderma, venereal disease, varicose veins and venous insufficiency. You can use any of the methods described above to treat them.

Externally a cold standard infusion or a poultice of leaves is used for minor burns, psoriasis and other skin conditions, as a wound herb, for hemorrhoids (piles), rheumatic pain and to reduce stretch marks and scarring.

In India gotu kola is mainly used to strengthen memory and nervous function. In Thailand it is used as an opium detox.

Avoid using artificial treatments, including pesticides and fertilizers, on your gotu kola, Plants take up chemicals they come in contact with and it’s not so nice to ingest them with your herbal remedies!


Babaco fruit is ready to eat when all traces of green are gone

Babaco health benefits: great fruit for low sodium diet

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Babaco fruit is ready to eat when all traces of green are gone

Babaco fruit is ready to eat when all traces of green are gone

The babaco or mountain papaya, Vasconcellea ×heilbornii (syn. Carica chrysopetala, C. xheilbornii or C. pentagona) is also known as the champagne fruit because of its “effervescent” flavor. A native of Ecuador, but cultivated successfully even in comparatively cool places, like Guernsey, Channel Islands.

The shrubby tree is smaller than its lowland relative, reaching a height of around 2m (6′), which makes it more suitable for growing in containers. As it is seedless, it is propagated using foot long sections of trunk as cuttings. After leaves and roots appear, it is planted out in its final position, and will produce fruit in about 15 months.

Choose a sheltered position, preferably sunny, with light, well drained but fertile soil and attach to a stake. Babaco should be protected from frost, as otherwise it may suffer from root rot, and also from deer and strong winds. Remove all but a single main stem until September, when a second shoot can be allowed to grow. After fruiting, cut back the old fruiting stem to the stump. The new stem will produce fruit for the following year. Mulch/feed with well rotted chicken manure or similar every month during the growing season and keep well watered. Do not allow to dry out. and provide humidity to encourage fruit set, but not too much, as this may encourage mildew.

The percentage of papain in the babaco is higher than in the papaya after which it got its name. It is the high papain content which probably accounts for the fizzy taste. However, if you are allergic to papain or latex, you should not eat babaco, use it medicinally or even touch the flesh. Note that the FDA has banned all medical use of papain.

Babaco is a pleasant tasting fruit with similarities to strawberry, pineapple and papaya. It should be kept at room temperature until all traces of green are gone, when it is ready to eat. Once ripe, it needs careful handling to avoid bruising, but can be stored in the refrigerator for several days or frozen. The whole fruit can be eaten, including the skin. Try it on its own, as an ingredient in fruit salad, or made into a smoothy with a little honey or sugar.

Nutrients in babaco include useful amounts of Vitamin C and potassium. It’s a good addition to a low-sodium diet because potassium content is around 100 times as much as sodium. Other nutrients include Vitamins A, B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), Niacin (B3), phosphorus, calcium, magnesium and iron.

It’s worth trying to grow your own babaco, if you live in the right sort of area or can provide a greenhouse or conservatory. Each plant can produce 38-100 fruits a year, so one is probably all you will need.

If you wish to grow babaco at home, stick to organic methods for your health’s sake. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.


Acerola cherries look a lot like regular cherries

Acerola cherries health benefits: vitamin C booster

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Acerola cherries look a lot like regular cherries

Acerola cherries look a lot like regular cherries

Acerola or acerola cherry, Malpighia emarginata (syn. Malpighia glabra, M. punicifolia or M. retusa), is also known as Antilles cherry, Barbados cherry, Puerto Rican cherry, West Indian cherry and wild crape (or crepe) myrtle. It is a fast growing deciduous sub-tropical tree native to northern South America, Central America and the Caribbean (but cultivated in many other places), some varieties of which can reach a height of 20′ in their native habitat.

Because acerola has large glossy leaves and attractive five-petalled pink or white flowers followed by fruit, it is sometimes grown as an ornamental in areas where temperatures do not drop below 30ºC (86ºF). It can be kept pruned as a bush no more than 5′ tall and grown in a pot, so it is suitable for conservatories in cooler climates. A dwarf variety is available which only reaches 2′ and can even be grown in a hanging basket! Many cultivated varieties produce fruit without pollination. Acerola is also sometimes grown as a bonsai – though fruiting is unlikely in this case.

The acerola tree will tolerate occasional drought, but not waterlogging. Fruit production will occur throughout the year in the right conditions so long as there is regular irrigation. Acerola should be planted in well drained soil of pH6.5-7.5 and prefers a position in full sun. It needs regular feeding (foliar feeds are usually used) and annual liming. As it has shallow roots which are not as extensive as most other trees, other crops may be interplanted more closely than with most fruit trees. On the other hand, this also makes the trees more likely to be uprooted by strong wind.

If you are growing acerolas, do not be concerned if most (up to 90%) of the flowers fall off. This is normal, and a full size tree 8 years old can still produce up to 60 pounds of fruit.Cautions: the minute hairs on acerola leaves may cause irritation in some people. Eating acerola cherries may increase both effects and side effects of estrogen. Acerola may decrease the effectiveness of fluphenazine (Prolixin) and warfarin (Coumadin). The dose of any of these three medications might need to be changed if you make acerola a regular part of your diet.

Although superficially similar to regular cherries, the acerola cherry is divided into 3 segments, each of which contains a winged seed, forming a triangle. When well cultivated, acerola cherries are sweet, though often the ones sold in the market are quite sharp. Their main benefit is the extremely high vitamin C content (up to 65 times that of an orange), which is highest in unripe (green) cherries. Other nutrients found in acerola cherries include vitamin A, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin. Vitamin C content is lost quickly, so fruit should be eaten as soon as possible after picking and kept in the refrigerator until then.

There is no need to make an infusion or anything, just eating the cherries or juicing them will give you all the benefits it provides, though they can also be cooked or used to make jellies and similar preserves. As mentioned already, the main benefits are from the vitamin C content. These include:

  • treating the common cold
  • treating pressure sores – up to 2g of vitamin C a day has been shown to aid recovery
  • reducing tooth decay and gum infections
  • fighting hay fever – taking plenty of vitamin C with bioflavonoids reduces histamine levels
  • increasing collagen production – vitamin C is a co-factor in the production of collagen, which is an essential part of almost every part of the body, from blood vessels to tendons and including the cornea (in the eyes) and the disks in your spine
  • treating clinical depression – depletion of norepinephrine can result in poor memory, loss of alertness and clinical depression. A shortage of vitamin C limits production of norepinephrine. Large doses of vitamin C have shown striking success in reversing depression

I offer a range of acerola products in my online shop.

As with all fruit, to avoid eating chemicals you would be best advised to use organic growing methods. To find out more about organic gardening visit the Gardenzone.


The açaí palm is an attractive, tall, slender palm with 4-8 stems

Açai berries health benefits: probably not that super

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The açaí palm is an attractive, tall, slender palm with 4-8 stems

The açaí palm is an attractive, tall, slender palm with 4-8 stems

The açaí berry, fruit of the açaí palm (Euterpe oleracea syn. E. badiocarpa, E. edulis) hit the news a few years back and has been popular ever since as a superfood. Other common names for the açaí palm include assai palm, cabbage palm, jussara and pina palm.The açaí palm is an attractive, tall, slender palm with 4-8 stems, reaching a height of 15-25m (50-90′). As it is a native of the Amazon, it is not suitable for most other areas (unless you live in a rainforest), but may survive in a pot if you give it the conditions it likes. Producing fruit in these circumstances is extremely unlikely, so you should regard it as a novelty, rather than a source of food.The açaí is adapted to survive flooding several times a year, and in order to germinate the seeds, the soil must be kept wet and at a temperature of at least 70ºF (21ºC) day and night. To ensure the soil doesn’t dry out while the seed is germinating, put the whole pot inside a sealed plastic bag, only removing it when the seedling appears. Alternatively, you could use capillary matting and a reservoir. Keep it in an area out of direct sunlight (filtered light is what it is used to in its native habitat), watering regularly to keep the soil moist. Pot on as required, but be prepared to dispose of it if it starts touching the ceiling.If you live in an area where temperatures don’t often fall below 45ºF (7ºC), you can transplant the tree when it’s growing strongly, choosing a location with enough space for it to reach its full height. It needs a pH of 6-6.5 and plenty of organic matter. It will also need daily watering – an automated solution would be ideal provided it can deliver sufficient water for the tree’s needs. Provide protection (fleece, etc) if the weather forecast predicts temperatures below 45ºF (7ºC).My advice to anyone growing crops of any type is to grow them organically, so that you don’t end up eating chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening visit the Gardenzone.Açaí berries are about 1-2cm in diameterThe fruit grows in huge bunches of up to 1,000 fruits that look a lot like bunches of black grapes, though the fruit is smaller – about the size of a blueberry. There is also a green or white variety, but in tests these were found to contain little or no antioxidants, so if you’re growing for fruit, go for the purple ones. As both male and female flowers are produced on the same plant, you can probably get away with a single specimen, as just one bunch can weigh up to 120 pounds! Someone, somewhere is making a fortune out of these things, and I kinda doubt it’s the local population.Unless you are in the right area, you will probably need to buy your açaí berries. These are in season from July to March, and the fresher they are, the better, as the nutritional value deteriorates fairly quickly. (Alternatively, freeze dried berries probably retain more nutrition than fresh berries which have been transported over long distances.) Another product of the açaí palm is “heart of palm” (actually immature leaf shoots), a popular ingredient in salads.
As you might expect, there is much more hype about açaí than it is really worth. Touted as a rich source of antioxidants, commercial juices rank lower for these than pomegranate juice, grape juice, blueberry juice and red wine, roughly equal to black cherry and cranberry juice, but higher than orange juice, apple juice and tea.There are many false claims made about açaí, which range from reversing diabetes and other chronic disorders, to increasing penis size, virility and attractiveness to women, to promoting weight loss and suchlike. No scientific studies have been made to support any of these claims and it is extremely doubtful that they have any validity at all.Having said that, there may be some minor benefit for the overweight in consuming small quantities of açaí berries, according to an uncontrolled pilot study by Jay K Udani, Betsy B Singh and Vijay J Singh of Medicus Research, Northridge and Marilyn L Barrett of Pharmacognosy Consulting, Mill Valley. An uncontrolled study is one where there is no control group (eg. a group of people who didn’t eat açaí) for comparison. The study found that eating açai fruit pulp (from an Açai Smoothie Pack manufactured by Sambazon) “reduced levels of selected markers of metabolic disease risk in overweight adults”. There’s a big difference between removing “markers” of risk and removing the risk itself, obviously. It would require a much longer controlled study to test for this.Açaí berries are quite high in calories (according to Wikipedia, 100g of freeze dried açaí fruit contains 533.9 calories, 52.2g carbohydrates, 8.1g protein, and 32.5g total fat), so dieters should definitely keep intake low.Nutrients found in açaí (per 100g freeze dried açaí) include 260 mg calcium, 4.4 mg iron, and 1002 IU vitamin A.I offer a range of acai products in my online shop.Update: you might be interested in this article about acai berries from Sky Rainforest Rescue:  How we have changed Acai harvesting


Stevia is a frost tender annual

Stevia health benefits: no-calorie sweetener and cravings suppressant

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Stevia is a frost tender annual

Stevia is a frost tender annual

The herb known as stevia, Stevia rebaudiana (syn. Eupatorium rebaudianum), is actually only one species in the genus Stevia, many of which also have similar sweetening capabilities. However, S. rebaudiana is the plant commonly referred to as stevia, and the one that I’m covering in this post. Other names by which it is known include candy leaf, sweetleaf, sweet leaf and sugarleaf.

Stevia is a native of Brazil and Paraguay, and is cultivated elsewhere. It is a half hardy annual (cannot survive temperatures below 20ºF, -7ºC) which reaches a height of around 50cm (20″). It is best sown under cover in temperate areas, pricking out, potting on, hardening off and transplanting like any other half hardy annual. Extra protection from fleece or cloches may be helpful at the beginning of the season if the weather is poor. Stevia is not fussy as to pH and tolerates poor soil well, but prefers light to medium soil. It must be kept moist and will not grow in shade. Leaves should be harvested when the plants come into flower and dried for future use.

Once dried, the leaves can be ground and used as a sweetener. Be cautious with it until you are used to it, as it is around 15-30 times as sweet as sugar. This must be a lot easier to deal with than commercial powdered stevia, though, which is based on a refined product 300 times as sweet as sugar! In my view the commercial product is not suitable for use in a weight loss diet because it is often blended with maltodextrin (mostly made by processing GMO corn) which is high in fructose, itself strongly associated with obesity.

Paraguay exports a large part of its stevia crop

Paraguay exports a large part of its stevia crop

Stevia has been used in its native habitat for hundreds of years both medicinally and as a sweetener, and for the past 30 years in Japan where it is used in place of aspartame, which is banned in Japan and in my view [aspartame] should be banned everywhere. Studies have shown that stevia has no damaging effects in the body.

The part used in medicine is the leaves, which are usually dried and can be used to sweeten beverages or food. Research has shown that it is useful for regulating blood sugar levels, lowering blood pressure, improving digestion, fighting tooth decay and gum disease, and as a craving suppressant. It is particularly useful for anyone suffering from obesity as it provides sweetness without calories, and for diabetics because it does not raise blood sugar levels, possibly improves glucose tolerance and acts as a pancreatic tonic.

Stevia is not used in aromatherapy.

As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, organic growing methods are preferred to avoid corrupting the essential components which provide the healing with foreign, and potentially toxic chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

Stevia has been used by the Guarani Paî Tavytera and Kaiowa people for thousands of years.


Uva ursi or bearberry is attractive to bees as well as bears

Uva ursi health benefits: for UTIs and E.coli

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Uva ursi or bearberry is attractive to bees as well as bears

Uva ursi or bearberry is attractive to bees as well as bears

Uva ursi, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (syn. Arctostaphylos officinalis, Arbutus uva-ursi, Uva-ursi procumbens and Uva-ursi uva-ursi), is also known as arberry, bearberry, bear grape, hogberry, hog cranberry, kinnikinnick, manzanita, mealberry, mountain box, mountain cranberry, pinemat manzanita, red bearberry, rockberry, sagackhomi, sandberry and upland cranberry. It is distantly related to the cranberry and Guelder rose (also called the European cranberry). Manzanita is a generic name for the whole of Arctostaphylos.

Bees are attracted to the flowers, and bears to the fruit in those countries where bears roam free. It is often used as an ornamental, sometimes also to combat soil erosion.

It’s known as a “pioneer plant”, because it’s often among the first to colonize an area which has been burnt to the ground, even on poor soils. It is an evergreen, only about 4 inches tall but spreading over an area of around 3 feet across and has pretty flowers which can range in color from white to pink. It bears quantities of mealy fruit, which while not very tasty (better if cooked), is high in carbs and makes this a good plant to have around in areas where food shortages might be a problem – so long as you don’t mind the odd bear popping in for a snack.

It’s native to Europe, the Russian Federation, Guatemala, the US and Canada and is naturalized in many other places. The further south it is found, the higher the altitude.

Uva ursi is a member of the family Ericaceae, which includes heather and various other fairly tough plants, but almost all are lime-hating and like acid soil best. This plant is exceptional, because it is not infrequently found growing in limestone areas, where calcifuges (lime haters) generally don’t survive for very long.

Uva ursi requires moist, well drained, light to medium soil, and although it prefers an acid soil, it can cope if this is impossible. It will grow in full sun, semi shade or even full shade. This makes it especially useful in gardens and reclamation areas where there are low light levels.

It will succeed best in relatively acidic but poor soil. If you buy plants in, try to disturb the roots as little as possible when planting out, and do not attempt to move them once established. Though it will succeed in shade, there will be more fruit on plants in sunnier areas. The main supply of leaves for medicinal use should be collected in the fall, picking only leaves which are green, and dried in a warm place.

As mentioned already, the fruit may be eaten and can also be added to stews. In the past, the leaves have been used for tea, but I advise against this, in the light of the toxicity problem discussed later on.

Native Americans used uva ursi extensively to treat various problems, and it has been used in herbalism for centuries. However, the leaves (which are the part used for most purposes) contain hydroquinone, which is toxic in high doses and should not be taken for long periods. It should not be used while pregnant or breastfeeding or by anyone suffering from a kidney infection or kidney disease. Take no more than 10g (a third of an ounce) of dried leaf daily and do not exceed the stated dose. It is best to use uva ursi no more than 5 times a year (but if you’re getting UTIs or E.coli more frequently than this, you should be consulting a physician in any case). Discontinue use if the symptoms being treated do not go away after a week (48 hours for urinary tract infections) or if you develop a high fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or severe back pain and seek immediate medical assistance.

Despite all these warnings, uva ursi is a sovereign remedy for urinary tract infections and E.coli, best used in combination with a vegetarian diet to ensure that the urine is alkaline (otherwise the reaction in the kidneys which releases the active ingredient will not take place). For the same reason, do not combine its use with cranberry juice, as this makes the urine acidic.

The method for making an infusion is unusual. Soak the dried leaves from a few hours up to a week in alcohol (brandy is best), then use a teaspoon (5ml) of the soaked leaves to each cup (250ml, 8 fl oz) of boiling water. Allow to stand in the usual way before straining off the leaves and discarding them. You can drink up to 3 cups a day of this infusion, but stick to the time limits mentioned previously.

You may come across instructions for using uva ursi in poultices. However, the hydroquinone is easily absorbed by the skin, so rather than waste your 5 doses a year on stuff you can treat with other things, my advice is to save them up for UTIs and E.coli, which are much more difficult to find remedies for.

A recipe for lung repair recommended by Dr Elise Wright of AllExperts.com /contains 1 part each of coltsfoot and uva ursi to 2 parts great mullein by volume. Take 2 cups of an infusion made from a teaspoonful of this mixture to a cup a day.

Uva ursi is not used in aromatherapy.

Uva ursi doesn’t need a great deal of attention, so it should be easy enough to ensure that organic cultivation methods are used. This will also avoid diluting or corrupting the active constituents with foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.